Modest Mouse

Since forming 11 years ago in Issaquah, Wash., Modest Mouse has grown from a teenage indie outfit to a platinum-selling act with an MTV hit. They’ve defied the “sellout” badge by growing on their own terms and navigating the major-label waters with the same hardworking, uncompromising ethic that got them their first breaks.

So was there a specific moment when frontman Isaac Brock realized he was “making it?”

“Yeah, about when I moved into my house here, a week or so ago,” Brock told Pollstar from his Oregon home studio. “I’m like, ‘Oh, wait a second, I really don’t have much of a formal education; I shouldn’t be able to do this.'”

“I had no backup plan at any point. I never thought about a plan either way; I just kinda kept doing what I was enjoying doing. And, you know, here I am.

“But there was never any point, even when I was living under a bridge in my van and shit like that, where I was like, ‘Huh, maybe I should think about going to school or something because this’ll probably get old by the time I’m, you know, 35.'”

The group began turning heads early on in Seattle, where they sought the attention of Inland Empire Touring founder Robin Taylor.

“She booked a couple of my friends’ bands, and then we’d asked her, and she had turned us down,” Brock said. “So we were working with someone else and then she decided she wanted to work with us and so, hey, awesome.”

Taylor confirmed that she didn’t jump on board right away.

“That’s absolutely correct,” she laughed. “They asked me and asked me and I just didn’t think they were ready yet.”

Then one night, the band, comprising Brock, bassist Eric Judy and drummer Jeremiah Green, was scheduled to open a show when the headliner canceled.

“So Modest Mouse was asked to play two and a half hours at the Crocodile Caf‚ in Seattle,” Taylor said. “And it was, like, spectacular, and I knew then. I was like, ‘Oh my God, if you still want me, you know …'”

The band signed on with Taylor just as its debut album, This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About, emerged on local label Up Records. Though they were barely out of high school, the group took to the road like seasoned vets.

“They did everything right,” Taylor said enthusiastically. “They’d done one tour previous to me coming on board, and then after that the calls just started coming. They did support slots with Built To Spill, and they just busted their ass by themselves and just toured the country nonstop for a couple years supporting the records.

Modest Mouse

“Then it was just like the snowball effect; the shows all of a sudden just got bigger and the hype got bigger.”

After releasing a second album and EP and adding guitarist Dann Gallucci, the band was picked up by Epic Records in 2000 for The Moon & Antarctica.

Modest Mouse scornfully brushed aside suggestions that they might suffocate in the major-label machine, and drove the point home with last year’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News. The album hit platinum in September and retains the band’s indie rock soul while expanding its sonic palette to include banjos, accordions and a guest spot from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

“Isaac won’t do retarded things, you know?” Taylor explained. “And I think the fans and the kids appreciate that and so it’s not like, ‘Look, we sold out.’

“You can make correct decisions and be on a major label and not suck,” she said.

Although he appreciates not having to sleep in a van anymore, Brock says it all evens out.

“It’s definitely easier on some levels, and on some levels it’s not. There’s a lot more responsibility the more people show up.

“The things that you gain, you give up other things. That’s my whole theory, that people are completely fixed. No matter what you do, you end up relatively in the same place, you know?

“Invent the car, your quality of life goes up in some areas and you sacrifice an equal amount in other areas. You get places quicker but you sit in traffic and you have to work more to pay for gas, pay for fucking car repairs, car payments, whatever. You’re fixed.

“Touring, you’re getting paid more or whatever, you might get to stay in a nicer hotel, or a hotel at all, then at the same time, you sacrifice other things.

“And hey, I’m not complaining. Everything’s great. Everything was great before. Things are going well.”

Brock’s take-it-as-it-comes attitude played well for the band this summer, when the Lollapalooza cancellation left dozens of bands scrambling for shows.

Taylor had already been working on filling in off-days, so she quickly pieced together a full tour with fellow Lollapalooza refugees The Walkmen.

“It didn’t affect us at all,” Brock said.

“It just seems like anything that is thrown at this band, not only do they handle it but they turn it into a positive for them,” Taylor said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, Lollapalooza’s canceled, but look at Modest Mouse go!'”